APR Comment:

Time for Action on Arctic Policy

It is hoped that all readers of Arctic Policy Review will take pen in hand to write their representatives in Congress urging them to support the amended Senate Bill 1562 entitled “The Arctic Research and Policy Act.”

This bill addresses international as well as national issues and should not be taken by members of Congress as merely the means to keep the Alaskan scientific community occupied. As has been pointed frequently in these pages, the economy of the industrialized world has come to depend more and more upon Arctic resources. This dependence entails new responsibilities which Congress has yet to assume. Such responsibilities include environmental protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat for sure, but also safeguards and security for Arctic cultures, and the proper planning and technology necessary for the smooth and safe development of Arctic resources.

The meeting of these responsibilities calls for a highly coordinated program of Arctic research that will provide the answers necessary to carry them out.

Just what will happen if Congress continues to delay establishment of a national Arctic science policy? Recent history gives us a ready answer. The lack of adequate scientific information has resulted in a repetition of fits and starts in Arctic development, resulting in the delays, challenges, and court fights that cost every consumer and taxpayer in the country.

It was governmental failure to provide a census of the bowhead whale (which it had been asked to provide for several years) that finally caused the International Whaling Commission to place a ban on the subsistence hunt of the bowhead whale in 1977. It was the failure of government to address gaps in scientific knowledge about the bowhead whale and ice-related topics which stopped the Beaufort Sea Oil and Gas Lease Sale in 1979. It is incomplete and inadequate scientific knowledge about the Arctic which continues to cause accidents, waste, pollution, destruction of wildlife habitat, uncertain planning, over regulation, and loss of life.

The amended National Arctic Policy and Research Bill is something that should please everyone. It will not only signal an entirely different attitude of the country towards the well-being of the Arctic and the people who work and live there, but it will provide a unique and exciting forum for the promotion of that well-being. As Greenland’s Hans-Pavia Rosing said at the Washington, D.C., hearings on the bill, “Arctic environmental science seems to be an area in which private industry cooperates well with the academic and public sectors.”

The proposed Arctic science information center is potentially one of the most exciting concepts in the development of an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach to science in our time. The whole bill is a well thought-out and creative national response to the problems created by Arctic development. It deserves swift passage by Congress and the support of all Americans.